by Edd Doerr
There once was a writer named Bierce,
Whose satire was biting and fierce.
He would puncture pretension
In any dimension
And sacred bubbles he'd pierce.
--- Edd Doerr
At long last the prestigious Library of America has added Ambrose Bierce to its roster of eminent American writers -- Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's Dictionary, Tales & Memoirs, edited by S.T. Joshi (879 pp, 2011, $35). Bierce hardly needs introduction to readers of this blog. His Devils' Dictionary has been a classic for many years. ("Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.") The only major American writer to have served in combat throughout the Civil War, he wrote stories about the war that would make anyone a pacifist. His ghost stories and horror tales would give a narcoleptic insomnia. His humor would make the Mount Rushmore faces crack a smile. He was also an accomplished poet, though there was insufficient space in the present volume for examples.
As a journalist based in California Bierce was the kind of muckraker we need today. A contemporary of Mark Twain, he vanished in Mexico in 1913 during their revolution. The film The Old Gringo, with Gregory Peck and Jane Fonda, was based on Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes' novel about his possible fate south of the border.
Joshi is also the editor four other books of Bierce material, plus The Unbelievers: The Evolution of Modern Atheism (Prometheus, 2011), Mark Twain: What is Man? and Other Irreverent Essays (Prometheus, 2009), and the majesterial Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics and Secularists (Greenwood Press, 2008), which includes my essay on The Founding Fathers. Joshi was recently appointed editor of The American Rationalist, published by CFI, which I edited and wrote for half a century ago.
Get the new Bierce book. You deserve a good read.